Last year for the first time, American female wrestlers with the WWE competed in a match during the company’s annual Super Showdown pay-per-view event in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It was the fifth time the event had been held in Saudi and the first time in Riyadh. This year, the company went back to Riyadh and a different pair of women were invited to tag along to star in a championship match. The WWE and crown prince Muhammad Bin Salman al Saud both see this as the natural progression of not just the women’s movement within wrestling, but the women’s movement within the kingdom.
One of the conditions of the women being allowed to wrestle in Saudi Arabia is that they adhere to the kingdom’s dress code, modeled after Muslim dress standards. This means that Naomi, a WWE Superstar and former champion, who usually wrestles in form-fitting gear that highlights her six-pack, was required to wrestle in an oversized shirt with coverage of her neckline, ankles, and wrists. As a former hijabi, modest dress codes are not the hill I choose to die on, but the issue here is that the code is not extended to the male wrestlers, who still get to compete in the pleather panties they wear in the U.S.
In reality, the Super Showdown, which is part of a 10-year deal between the kingdom and the WWE, is just a money grab orchestrated by Vince McMahon, who has never met a dollar he doesn’t like. But if I’m going to be force-fed a narrative about equality and the significance of these women going all the way to Saudi then there is one small tiny thing that needs to happen to make these lies digestible.
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If I am to believe the lies that Vince McMahon and MBS are united for progressive ideals and equality, then shouldn’t things appear slightly more equal? Perhaps unknown to those outside of Islam, there is actually a ruling on modest dress for men, who are asked to cover their bodies, not wear tight-fitting clothes, and not expose themselves to unknown women. And yet male wrestlers like Goldberg, The Miz, Ricochet, and Angel Garza were all allowed to get into the ring in a mixed-gender audience in Saudi Arabi with their bulges on full display. Far be it from me to discourage any man who is proud of his bulge but last time I checked, that shit doesn’t fly in the kingdom. The women who pretend as if it’s an honor just to be invited to this event, had to leave their usual gear at home, but these men couldn’t even be bothered to put on some pants? A shirt? Nothing? On an unrelated note, The Undertaker was also at this show and it is immoral for any country—theocratic or not—to allow this man who is clearly broken in multiple places from years of injuries to keep wrestling.
I know that equality and the fair treatment of women is a giant ask and the world of wrestling is not exactly the most accommodating place for it. But if sport entertainment fans are asked to buy into the concept that McMahon and MBS are doing anything remotely progressive, then it shouldn’t be too much to ask that they execute it across gender.